The past decade has been a reminder viruses have no respect for national borders. SARS spread across three continents in 2003, and the latest coronavirus strain is breaking into new territories. In the past week, Italy confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
A lack of collaboration and information-sharing aided the spread of SARS--with China coming in for criticism--and this experience reshaped how the world handles pandemic threats. China has become more open--earning praise for its handling of H7N9--and has now inked an agreement to let Columbia University work in its Center for Disease Control. Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity will become the first international group to run a lab in the Chinese Center for Disease Control.
Researchers from the U.S. and China will work together on pathogen surveillance, identification of new infectious microbes and development of new vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. An initial 5-year agreement is in place, with the Chinese National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention (NIVDC) funding the project. The joint lab is due to open this summer.
Creation of the lab comes as the world grapples with two potentially pandemic pathogens. China has slowed the spread of H7N9--prompting the end of emergency response initiatives--but it still carries a risk. Late last week, the virus claimed its 38th life in mainland China. The World Health Organization said new production techniques can cut vaccine development timelines, but it will be "many months" before large quantities are available.
A vaccine or specific antiviral for MERS-CoV is still a way off, too. The novel coronavirus has now spread to Italy, with WHO reporting three laboratory-confirmed cases over the weekend. "At the moment, the situation is under control. Even the baby is getting better," Italian health minister Beatrice Lorenzin said, The Hindu reports. Scientists are investigating a combination of ribavirin--sold by Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) as Virazole--and interferon alpha 2b to treat the disease.